“I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character.”
Marie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, p47
While talking about organization, my neighbor had recommended Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Apparently, it’s been quite the hit in the world of organizing, so I decided to give it a try.
The number of books on organization can ironically choke a bookshelf or ten. After all, the concept of organization itself is broad.
It is rare for me to find any single book on the subject that I fully enjoy. Instead, I pick and choose ideas among many. For an approach to work well, it needs to be both broad enough to capture a mindset and specific enough to present a how-to.
Marie Kondo’s books The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy does hit these points.
Generally, her practice is about:
- Recognizing the things you care for
- Enhancing the signal to noise ratio by discarding what you do not care for, and then
- Actively caring.
She also describes, more specifically, how she goes through a process of organization, both in terms of categories, and in the detailed how-to of individual items.
In addition, some of her ideas share commonalities with being productive and task management, some of which I’ll describe below.
A Measure of Joy
What I find most interesting is the simplicity at the center of Kondo’s approach. She begins and maintains the journey by instructing the reader to pick up every object and ask,
- Does it spark joy?
- If it does, keep it.
- If it does not, get rid of it.
Clearly, there is a parallel to most books on organization which start with a purging process. However, the measure of “joy” is deceptively brilliant.
A sense of “joy” automatically takes into account conscious and unconscious meanings behind an object’s presence in our lives. We don’t have to fully know why something is meaningful in order to find it a place.
Much like any creative endeavor, we don’t often see the meaning or what the end will look like from where we are. Creativity is a process of discovery. Perhaps we can approach organization the same way.
When we actively and systemically consider the meaning of objects in our environments, we gain the ability to shape our environments to support us in the ways we find meaningful. The more things in our environment that do not somehow “spark joy” the more difficult it is to get to those things that do. Removing these objects enhances the signal to noise ratio of things that do support joy in our lives.
Now, of course, our tax papers or a needed but not inherently joyful tool may not seem to fit the bill. However, in these cases, one needs to only consider how they support joy throughout life elsewhere.
A Sentient Environment
Kondo views her belongings as having near sentience. Throughout her writing, she expresses a reverence for a near animistic world. She thanks the items she discards for their service to her. She considers the feelings of the clothes she folds.
I do wonder if her approach may put off some readers. But her presentation and self-reflection strikes me as someone with full candor and honesty. So, however one approaches their environments, one cannot help but be enamored by Kondo’s love of her work and world.
Productivity and Joy
Productivity is about regularly asking our environments and our habits if they are supporting us in the development of what we find meaningful, and, if not, how can they be improved? In this way, productivity is very much about organization.
Perhaps, we may even apply the Joy measure to our projects. For example, during a weekly review, could we decide on keeping and dropping projects as they relate to joy? Certainly, not all projects spark joy directly. Where is the joy in cleaning out the basement? But once again, if we can connect a project to how and where it does or would support joy and develop meaning in our lives, we may find the project as meaningful itself.
Creating Homes for Objects and Projects
An important aspect of organization is creating a home for every object. Similarly, we can consider the home and paths of our projects, perhaps even trying to make them pleasant where possible.
However, a project’s home occupies a different form of space. For example, for every project, we can consider:
- How often should this project be reviewed?
- What is my vision of this project’s present and future?
- Is there a well-written next action in a well-curated action list?
- Are the relevant supplies and references easily reached from the project?
The Role of Acknowledgement
Kondo expresses “thanks” to the objects she disposes of. The practice may seem odd, and I can’t say I’ve truly given this my all. But it is a practice of acknowledgment.
It is not as simple as saying just “Thank you.” She is thoughtful. Importantly, she reflects on how she is thankful.
- Thank you for being there at a certain time in my life.
- Thank you for having supported me with _____.
- Thank you for teaching me that I do not have time for you.
Saying, “Thank you” acknowledges the past self that brought, allowed, or accepted the object into our world. It also acknowledges that its time of support has passed and that things end, which is not always so easy or obvious for us to accept.
Further, while we may acknowledge an end in physical presence, we may still recognize that it has helped shape us into who we are in the present.
The process of individually handling each object and going through this process of acknowledgment, allowing thoughts to settle, helps to clear not only our environments but more importantly our mind.
One can also consider where an object goes in the act of discarding. Finding things a new home may provide a sense of a continued story for the objects, particularly when they are still held dear, yet do not spark joy in current times.
In the same way, perhaps we can say “Thank you” to projects we decide to drop. At times, we thank it for teaching us the limits of time, the excitement it once gave us, or the dreams of another time.
For more reading
Beyond the book itself, consider also reading Groom and Style’s The Art of Tidying Up: A Complete Guide to a Decluttered Life